Volume 11 • Issue 04 • 2012


Dec 21, 2012 Editorial
A lesson from L’Aquila: the risks of science (mis)communication

by Giancarlo Sturloni

On 22 October 2012, six members of a technical-scientific consultancy agency of the Italian Civil Protection were found guilty of multiple manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison by the court in L’Aquila. According to the prosecution, days before the earthquake that devastated the town of L’Aquila on 6 April 2009 killing 309 people, the experts failed to correctly alert the population on the actual seismic risk. The sentence was widely interpreted as an attack to science, penalised for not accurately predicting the quake. Actually, the defendants were accused of having deprived the citizens of information that may have saved their lives. This story does not hide any attack to science. On the contrary, this is the demonstration of the high regard the civil society has for the opinions of the experts. But in the so-called risk society, access to information is an inalienable right of the citizens. Beyond the legal aspects, the impression is that the lesson from L’Aquila can mark a point of no return in the relations between science and society.

Volume 11 • Issue 04 • 2012


Nov 13, 2012 Article
Towards delivering e-health education using Public Internet Terminals (PIT) systems in rural communities in South Africa

by Alfred Coleman

This paper investigated the potential of the Public Internet Terminal (PIT) system to promote basic health education for two rural communities in the North West Province of South Africa. A case study approach was used. Participants were selected from a population group of teachers, nurses, business people and  students in the two communities. Observation, group interviews and questionnaire were used to gather evidence from the participants regarding their  operational difficulties, social/economic difficulties and perceived usefulness of using the PIT system for basic health education. The findings revealed that a high number of participants could not operate the PIT system to search for relevant health information. Participants cited reasons of information overload and slow response of the PIT system. Further findings revealed that many participants lack awareness of the PIT services in these post offices. Participants  indicated that the PIT system lacks local content specific information such as healthcare information on vaccination, personal hygiene, nutrition and pharmacies around their vicinities. The results from this study led to the recommendations which emphasized the incorporation of basic e-health education portal into the existing services on the PIT system and proposed a new user interface for the PIT.

Volume 11 • Issue 04 • 2012

Nov 27, 2012 Article
Synthetic biology in the Science Café: what have we learned about public engagement?

by Erin L. Navid and Edna F. Einsiedel

Engaging the public on emerging science technologies has often presented challenges. People may hold notions that science is too complicated for them to understand and the venues at which science is discussed are formal and perceived as  inaccessible. One approach to address these challenges is through the Science Café, or Café Scientifique. We conducted five Science Cafés across Canada  to gauge public awareness of synthetic biology technology, its potential applications, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the Science Café platform as a  knowledge-translation tool. Café participants were excited about the potential benefits of synthetic biology technology, but also concerned about the potential  risks. And while participants trusted scientists to carry out their research, there was limited confidence that regulators would ensure public safety. Science  Cafés as a forum for science to meet society were viewed positively for the relaxed atmosphere, small crowd size and informality of the venue. We conclude  that Science Cafés are an effective upstream engagement platform for discussing emerging science technologies.

Volume 11 • Issue 04 • 2012

Dec 17, 2012 Article
Public opinions regarding the relationship between Autism Spectrum Disorders and society: social agenda construction via science café and public dialogue using questionnaires

by Jin Higashijima, Yui Miura, Chie Nakagawa, Yasunori Yamanouchi, Kae Takahashi and Masaki Nakamura

Rapid and significant developments in the science of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) have provoked serious social and ethical concerns as well as positive influences worldwide. This study created a social agenda containing 21 important issues regarding the relationship between ASDs and society and the development of the science of ASDs. The agenda was constructed with the input of a variety of Japanese people who were provided with scientific ASD information and engaged in discussions regarding ASDs. First, opinions were sought via a questionnaire from the attendees of six science café sessions. Then, additional important issues were put forward by attendees of a larger dialogue session regarding the relationship between ASDs and society, again via a questionnaire. The agenda covered a wide range of issues, including information regarding ASDs, people’s understanding of ASDs, social support, education, the difference between ASD characteristics and individuality, ASD research, diagnosis, and social attitudes.

Volume 11 • Issue 04 • 2012


Dec 21, 2012 Commentary
Nanotechnologies and emerging cultural spaces for the public communication of science and technologies

by Paolo Magaudda

In the last decade, social studies of nanotechnology have been characterized by a specific focus on the role of communication and cultural representations.  Scholars have documented a proliferation of the forms through which this research area has been represented, communicated and debated within different social contexts. This Jcom section concentrates on the proliferation of cultural spaces where nanotechnologies are articulated and shaped in society. The intent is that of showing how these different cultural spaces — with their specific features and implications — raise multiple issues and involve distinct perspectives concerning nanotechnology. More specifically, the articles presented in the section outline and characterize three different cultural spaces where nanotechnologies are communicated: science museums, hackerspaces and the web. The overall section’s argumentation is that the study of the  communication of nanotechnology requires to consider a multiplicity of different cultural spaces and, moreover, that the attention to the differences existing between these spaces is a powerful perspective to explore and make sense of the varieties of ways in which nanotechnologies circulate in society.

Volume 11 • Issue 04 • 2012